Category Archives: Little things

Beer in the woods

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This might be the best place in Southern Illinois.

Tucked away at the end of a back road outside Ava, Illinois, is a microbrewery so good, in such an idyllic setting, it has managed to elevate my entire perception of the region where I grew up.

We made a new friend on our last visit.
We made a new friend on our last visit.

I first learned about Scratch Brewing Company last fall, when I attended a friend’s birthday party at Hangar 9 in Carbondale, and his sister bought me a hickory-based sour beer from Scratch that was easily the most glorious thing I’d ever tasted.

The taps are made of sticks. So is some of the beer. And it is AMAZING.
The taps are made of sticks. So is some of the beer. And it is AMAZING.

Ron and I finally made it out to Scratch’s tasting room this summer and proceeded to fall in love with the brewery and its surroundings.

The garden surrounding the brewery blends seamlessly into the woods.
The garden surrounding the brewery blends seamlessly into the woods.

The first thing that delighted me about Scratch was the fact they make everything from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, many of which they grow on-site or forage from the nearby forest. This practice leads to far more diverse and interesting flavors than you find at breweries that rely almost exclusively on hops to flavor their beer.

The menu changes constantly. Last Friday, we had this cheese platter with house-made crackers and a killer spreadable cheese from Bloomsdale, Missouri.
The menu changes constantly. Last Friday, we had this cheese platter with house-made crackers and a killer spreadable cheese from Bloomsdale, Missouri.

The second thing that delighted me about Scratch was the fact they aren’t afraid to experiment with less common types of beer. This means you’ll almost certainly find a sour or two on tap when you walk in, and they might have a rauchbier, a heavy or some other less-common variety available as well.

Everything on this menu is awesome. And odds are good none of it will be on the menu when you go, because the options change constantly.
Everything on this menu is awesome. And odds are good none of it will be on the menu when you go, because the options change constantly.

The brewers’ commitment to local ingredients extends to the yeasts they use: Instead of commercially produced yeasts, they use sourdough starter to ferment their beer and make their pizza crust rise. This not only guarantees a unique, hyperlocal flavor, but it allows me to drink Scratch products without triggering sinus headaches. (Apparently I’ve developed an allergy to certain strains of yeast in the past year or so, but I’ve been exposed to Southern Illinois’ indigenous yeasts for 41 years, so my immune system doesn’t freak out when it encounters them.)

This is what my dining room would look like most of the time if I didn't own a dehydrator.
This is what my dining room would look like most of the time if I didn’t own a dehydrator.

After three trips, however, I’ve found my favorite thing about Scratch might not be the excellent food or the world-class beer, but the surroundings. The tasting room is tucked into the woods, with a big, rambling herb garden out front and tiny lizards darting between the rocks in the retaining walls next to the walkway that leads into the building.

Here is most of the Piasa mural ...
Here is most of the Piasa mural …
... and here is the rest.
… and here is the rest.

Indoors, a beautifully rendered mural of a Piasa bird graces one wall, dried herbs hang from the rafters and fill jars lining another wall, and local artists’ influence can be seen everywhere.

This sort of reminds me of the golden years when Makanda Java carried bulk herbal tea in big jars.
This sort of reminds me of the golden years when Makanda Java carried bulk herbal tea in big jars.

It’s a remarkable place, and one that has the same effect on me as a trip to Dave Dardis’ not-so-secret garden in Makanda: It makes me more aware and more appreciative of what my home area has to offer. Between Scratch and a recent trip to Shawnee Trails in Carbondale, I’m just about ready to invest in a pair of trail shoes and let my next New Year’s resolution revolve around exploring the forests of Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri every chance I get.

Emily

Artwork by Ollie

Ollie made me a picture tonight at Mom and Dad’s:

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Yes, I framed it. Of course I framed it. It’s a hand turkey. Made by a 3-year-old. The teal-colored wattles on the turkey actually started out as a teardrop, which made it look as if it had killed someone in prison, but I think Jamie convinced Ollie to modify it.

If you wouldn’t proudly display a toddler’s rendering of a turkey with a prison tattoo in your home, I’m not sure we can be friends.

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Hazel had a birthday party today. She’s 5. Mom asked me to take a picture of all three kids together. I think she was hoping for something suitable for use on Christmas cards. This was the only one that didn’t have someone making a face or squirming or wandering off or giving bunny ears or some combination of the above. The boys have cake and Kool-Aid all over their faces, and Hazel is completely distracted, so obviously the party was a success.

Emily

Back to basics (and feeling awesome)

We closed on the House of the Lifted Lorax on Monday (congratulations to new owner Josh, who is way amped about the solar panels and the woodstove, and whose young niece is way amped about the Lorax mural on the side of the garage), which means we have just enough money in the bank to pay off our moving expenses and put a privacy fence around the backyard.

You can’t fully appreciate the value of a good fence until you’ve spent six months putting out a pair of hyperactive dogs on short cables umpteen times a day. Yeesh.

In addition to affording us the convenience of opening the back door and letting Song and Riggy take themselves out, this fence will free us up to establish a new beehive, adopt some chooks, install a pond, start a compost pile, and — if I’m feeling really ambitious — maybe set up a small warren of rabbits without interference from curious neighbors of either the two- or four-footed variety.

I put in an experimental, totally halfassed garden this spring and learned enough about my new yard to feel pretty confident taking my usual “Darwin Garden” approach: Coddle the tomatoes and leave everything else to natural selection. So far, I’ve determined that California poppies won’t do a damn thing; cucumbers, strawberries, arugula and most herbs will thrive with absolutely no attention; green beans should do well with minimal attention; and tomatoes should perform fairly well if we choose a variety that’s tolerant of partial shade and try to protect it from the local wildlife.

After meeting the new owner of the old house Monday and giving him some pointers on living the eco-hippie life to its fullest, I’m in full-on DIY mode, so this afternoon, I mixed up a batch of homemade laundry detergent and am currently trolling for dishwasher detergent recipes, since I’ve got plenty of washing soda and borax left over.

Also on the to-do list for this afternoon: Get a new set of shelves for the basement, join a gym, stock up on soup and chili ingredients, find the source of the smell coming from the kitchen drain, and work on the coupon books I’m making the kids for Christmas.

Life is good.

Emily

Decision

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

I worked with several kids with Asperger syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders during the course of my four years at Webster.

I adored those kids.

They don’t know it, but just by being part of my class, they gave Riggy a better mommy. That seems fair, since Scout gave them a better teacher. “The gift goes on,” as Sandi Patty says.

This video made me cry.

I am applying to grad school this week. For reasons.

Emily

Resolutions

I didn’t have many New Year’s resolutions this year, but I did promise myself I’d do more hippie crap, because it makes me happy.

Here’s my first real effort in that direction:

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I ordered a sprouter before Christmas. It came in before I left for Tucumcari, but I didn’t start any seeds until I got home. I now have two trays full of alfalfa sprouts and a tray of lentil sprouts. I’m looking forward to eating them in salad tomorrow.

Sprouts are nice. They’re cheap to grow, and they taste like spring, which makes them especially nice in the middle of January.

As January evenings go, this one isn’t bad. I’ve got Emmylou Harris on Spotify, a cup of Wild Berry Zinger on my desk (sweetened with honey from our apiary, of course), and a design project in front of me. It’s not the ballpark on a hot summer evening, but it’s acceptable.

Speaking of the ballpark, Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 36 days. Eep!

If I’ve counted right, we’re also 93 days out from the Drillers‘ home opener. The bad news is that I will be missing that game. The good news is that I will be missing that game because I will be sitting in the second row at a Judy Collins concert in Kansas.

Sometimes my life is just flat awesome.

Emily

Simple pleasures

It’s been cool for a couple of weeks, so I think it’s safe at this point to say that summer is more or less over. I’m no fan of winter, but with the changing of the seasons, three small pleasures return:

1. It’s been cool enough for us to resume our tradition of taking Song and Riggy to the dog park on Sunday afternoons. After being cooped up in the house all summer, they’re really enjoying the change to get out and romp with the other dogs.

2. It’s cool enough for cappuccino in the evenings. I bought a new burr grinder several months ago but never put it to use because the weather was so hot, I just didn’t feel like messing with it. I cleared off a counter and set it up tonight. I didn’t have any good espresso on hand, but I rummaged around in the cabinets and found a bag of decaf house blend I’d picked up in Makanda last time I was home. It was stale, but I put it through the grinder anyway. Stale or not, Makanda Java tastes like home, and for me, cappuccino is always a multisensory experience anyway — one that exists in both the past and present tenses simultaneously. Depending on my mood, the time of year, and my surroundings, a cappuccino can conjure a skipped class, an icy morning in Carbondale, a laugh with a friend, a 20-year-old conversation about politics, a Gus Bode cartoon, a novel I never got around to writing, a text from a friend at a moment of crisis, a date in St. Louis’ Central West End, or any of a thousand other scraps of memory scrawled on paper napkins or scribbled on receipts and bank deposit slips and dropped down the rabbit-holes at the bottoms of purses that no longer exist, where they slipped through singularities and vanished, waiting to surface again at odd moments when the first shock of hot, bitter coffee penetrates the gentleness of foam and carries me into the past at the very moment I’m savoring the present.

Even bad coffee is usually a good experience.

3. Hoodie season is upon us. I didn’t really appreciate hoodies until I wore one to ward off the chill of San Francisco this spring and realized the cool suited me fine if it came with Beat poetry, an ocean breeze, and breakfast in a little coffeehouse two or three blocks from the Pacific. San Francisco is a long way from Oklahoma, but somehow it feels closer when I’m snuggled into a warm hoodie under a cool rain.

Hope you’re enjoying your evening, wherever you are.